Last month I officially became the pastor of Griggs Memorial Baptist Church on Poinsett Highway between Cherrydale and Downtown!
It’s been there since 1936. It’s had many seasons of fruitful ministry. Its last season was sort of rough, however. The last pastor had passed away. There were some awesome folks attending the church still, but there was only a handful of them. I got a phone call one night from the deacon there asking me if I could help out for a while. I agreed. Over time, it became apparent that the door was open for me and some of my best friends to bring a breath of fresh air into this church. It’s my goal to revitalize the work there and show the entire neighborhood of Poe Mill unconditional love.
We’ve been holding services. We’ve been singing, preaching, sharing and fellowshipping (lots of BBQ). We’re bringing in tons of children and if we can get them to chill for long enough we share the gospel with them. I’m usually upstairs, but my wife says handing out suckers downstairs starts fights like prison cigarettes. We’ve been going door to door just to pray for folks and tell them our church is as alive as ever. We’ve had, by God’s Grace, a good number of people visit and some awesome chances to help a few folks out. I can’t wait to tell those stories soon.
Something interesting, however, is that there was a time in my life, not too long ago, that I believed it was a waste of time to do ministry in the South. In fact, when I first graduated college, I had no issue with picking up and moving myself out to Seattle. A part of me figured it was more needy there, therefore it was the only Godly option.
I’m not the only one who has thought this way. Ministry friends and I have often had conversations about not wanting to stay in Greenville forever because it had too many churches to begin with. I even thought this way after I had moved back from Seattle to do student ministry here in Greenville.
So what has changed for me? Why am I so excited and compelled to do church ministry in the South? Why am I unapologetically giving my energy to build up yet another church in Greenville?
1. The South has a lot of Church Buildings
In Greenville you can drive from Starbucks to work and spot 15 churches on the way. Even in the neighborhood I’m currently pastoring in, Poe Mill, there are a dozen churches right around us. But just because you’re passing a lot of church buildings as you drive around, doesn’t mean a lot of church is going on. In fact, the number of church buildings in a city doesn’t tell me anything about how the gospel is affecting its people. And what we have here is just that – a lot of church buildings.
There are more than a few churches around Greenville that boast the space for huge crowds but are only using a small classroom to meet in because their congregation has dwindled down over the years. No one new has come in, no one has been converted, not even sure if the baptismal works. I’m not judging these groups. My own church has been through a season like this. I truly Hope that more churches will be able to revitalize. Either way, make no mistake, counting steeples won’t tell you the whole story.
2. The reward for church is more church
Greenville does have a lot of thriving churches too. It’s true that the number of Christians here is larger than the number of Christians in most cities. But have you ever wondered why that is?
It’s a gift of God's grace. I am not going to pretend to be a history buff, but at some point a lot of Christians started a lot of churches here. And the result of starting churches? Growth. The result of a growing church? More churches.
God’s reward for Christians loving a city is not less fruit but more fruit. Disciples are made, therefore ministries are started, and even more disciples are made. It’s inevitable. In fact, sometimes the end of one church is the beginning of several new ones. Jesus said that he would build his church. He said that if he were lifted up he would draw all men to himself.
If we get annoyed that people keep planting churches in the same area, it could be that we, inadvertently, are minimizing the fruit of churches who have been working hard here for a long time. And thus we are minimizing the work of Jesus.
3. Less Southerners are following Jesus than you think
From what I hear 20% of Greenville goes to church somewhere. Again, that’s a lot more than most cities. A lot more. But 80% are as lost as if they were living in the Northeast, which is the least churched region in America (again, from what I hear). It doesn’t matter if the person is lost in the conservative South or is lost in the most liberal city on the West Coast. They’re lost. They need to be reached. Churches reach people.
We are currently ministering to quite a few lost people - people who are struggling with substance abuse, family issues and depression. We’re doing our best to reach out to the poor and the needy. Interestingly, they all grew up and live minutes away from churches. They were never reached. They’re lost. They don’t know the gospel. They don’t know Jesus. Rescuing the sheep who got away is a noble goal whether you’re here or in the darkest corner of the world.
4. You should do ministry for people you love
Why? Because it’s the only way to do it right. Peter tells the elders scattered abroad in 1 Peter 5 not to take care of the flock under compulsion, but eagerly. To do that, you have to care about the people you’re shepherding. You have to love them. There has to be something deep inside of you that compels you to fight for them.
The myth is that it’s more spiritually significant to go to a place that makes you super uncomfortable and do ministry there. The reason it’s a myth is that it’s not about location it’s about people. That’s how missionaries are able to leave home and endure the hardships of life out of their comfort zones. They care about the people they’re going to.
Before I officially started at Griggs, I was sitting on the porch doing some work. I had grabbed a Bible and brought it outside with me. It was my wife’s Bible. I happened to flip open to 1 Thessalonians 2 and saw a verse underlined. It said, “So, being affectionately desirous of you, we were ready to share with you not only the gospel of God but also our own selves, because you had become very dear to us.” In the margin to the right of the verse my wife had written, “I want a ministry like that.” It was a few weeks after we had started helping this little church out. She had just gotten connected to the children that were coming.
That was a defining moment for me. I realized I cared for this church. I realized that I cared for this side of town. I realized that I love Greenville. I want to call it home. I want to do ministry here. And I should!
Because you should do ministry for the people you love. No matter where they are.
Photo Credit: Doug Anderson https://www.flickr.com/photos/dougandme/